iNTeLL is an emcee and a filmmaker. He writes his own rhymes and directs his own videos. The New York native also comes from rap royalty. He is the son of Wu-Tang Clan member, U-God and has undoubtedly inherited his father work ethic and respect for the culture.
Only in his mid-20s iNTeLL has a handful of releases under his belt, but his latest release might be his complete work yet. “U.N.I.T.E” is a 20-track album released on iNTeLL’s very own iNTeLLectual Entertainment.
The album features appearances by Father $ha, Prema777, The Purge, Billi Free, DruGunn$, Lyrics ReallieDoe, Rollie Flee, DJ Flipcide, Squeegie-O, D1C3, Bobby Briz, Dro Pesci, and XpX. U.N.I.T.E is produced by Yodi, 90culture, Wavy Bagels, ICE, FX-M Black, Bouklas Beats, TrapHitmaker, Agent Blurr, ILLUMINAB, Beat Kollektorz, WhoDunit, IronWind, and XpX.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to iNTeLL about juggling being a filmmaker and an emcee, walking in the shoes of his father, U-God of the Wu-Tang Clan, and his new album, U.N.I.T.E.
TRHH: Why’d you call the new album “U.N.I.T.E”?
iNTeLL: Over the past two years, since I really jumped back into music and did the album that I released with the Snowgoons, during this whole time I’m still trying to figure out what type of artist that I am. It came to me that I don’t have to be Dontae, I don’t have to be iNTeLL, or all these different personas that do different things. I rap, I make films, I paint – I can just be myself. I can be unified – one united entity moving forward creating art.
TRHH: On the title track you said, “They don’t want us to succeed, ‘cause that means that they will fail.” Explain that line.
iNTeLL: That’s pretty much aimed at the powers that be in this world that keep the rich richer and keep the poor poorer because they feel that shifting that status quo or that dynamic ultimately means that they end up on the bottom and the people on the bottom end up at the top. Because life is cyclical. Everything is a revolution so at some point the people on the bottom have to be at the top and the people at the top have to be at the bottom. The people at the top right now are fighting so hard to keep the people at the bottom at the bottom because they’re enjoying the top. There is a compromise where we can all be well off, but they don’t want to do that either. They just want to be greedy. They don’t want us to succeed because that means that they’ll fail in their minds. Having people of color and minorities up rise, be successful, have their own businesses, and build up their own communities means that the powers that be will fail in their efforts to maintain control over everything.
TRHH: Is that opinion influenced by a Marxist point of view?
iNTeLL: I’m familiar with his teachings and his writings. I haven’t fully read anything by him. It may be slightly influenced but I’ve never read full pages of anything he’s written so I don’t know how much influence it could actually have.
TRHH: What do you say to those who might say it’s survival of the fittest and if you’re poor that means you didn’t try hard enough?
iNTeLL: I think that’s stupid. That’s the thing about racism and why black people and people of color can’t be racist. Black people and people of color can be prejudiced, but they can’t be racist. Racist is when you actually physically do something to prohibit that persons progress based on their skin color. Black people don’t really have the power in America to do that and impose that on other cultures. I don’t want to just say “white people” because it’s deeper than white people, I’ll just say “the powers that be.” They actually do things to stop progress. If you have two guys in a race and they’re running as fast as they can, survival of the fittest is whoever the fastest guy is wins. I have no problem with that. But if the slower guy, or the guy that is afraid to see if he is the faster guy starts putting oil, tacks, and is literally firing shots at the back of the other guy to prevent him from winning that’s not survival of the fittest. That’s cowardice on the other guy’s part. Everything has to be fair in order for survival of the fittest to actually be plausible for people that say that. I think it’s ridiculous.
TRHH: How would you compare this album to the project you dropped last year with the Snowgoons, “That Was Then This is Now”?
iNTeLL: So, the one I dropped with the Snowgoons, I’m very proud of that album. I put a lot of hard work into that and energy. I did something different – I went to a professional studio for the first time, I had everything mixed and mastered, I had all the track outs. We really spent a lot of time perfecting the sonics of the album. I feel like because I was so focused on that and also I had a limited budget, I couldn’t really focus on just making the best album entirely that I could have. Not saying that I didn’t deliver rhymes and pick good beats, but my mind was all over the place with that album because I was learning as I was going. With U.N.I.T.E I figured out the type of artist I want to be. Also, I didn’t have to worry about budget because I linked up with this dude by the name of Dice, shout out to Rival Records.
Me and him have been building. We have a project cooking and he has his own studio so he let me record U.N.I.T.E, he mixed it and then I put it out. I love it. I think the lyrics are better. That’s just how it’s going to be because as an artist I’m growing more and more with each project. I think lyrically it’s better. On the first album I picked beats that I solely liked 100% – I didn’t give a fuck if other people would like them. With U.N.I.T.E I took into consideration the type of music that’s being made right now, the type of music that the kids are listening to, the type of music that the OG’s are listening to, the type of music that the die-hard fans are listening to, and I also took into consideration my own developing style and my own developing ear. That’s pretty much the dynamic between the one I put out with the Snowgoons and U.N.I.T.E.
TRHH: The short film you released for the album contains different elements from the album and the people you worked with. How did you come up with that concept?
iNTeLL: There is another artist by the name of Sean Strange who I’ve been collaborating with a lot. He’s been like a mentor to me over the last couple of years. I told him what I was doing with the project early on, not really knowing where it was going. We were just building on how people consume music really quickly these days. It’s not enough to give them a 20 clip or a 25 clip album. You gotta come with the visuals and 360 degrees of entertainment for people. I’m a filmmaker as well and I’ve been shooting a whole bunch of music videos for myself and other people. I wanted to take it a step further and do something that would hold peoples attention spans a little bit longer, and also I wanted to see what I could do because I haven’t made a film in a while. I’ve been doing my music shit heavy. I collaborated with Father $ha, that’s Meth’s son, he just dropped a project on iTunes and it’s fire. If I’m in front of the camera I can’t be behind it, obviously, so my younger brother picked up the cam and I’ve been teaching him some of my techniques. I’m really proud of the work we did. My team is really good and we’re getting a lot of great feedback from that. I just hope the people appreciate it.
TRHH: You’re a filmmaker first before you are an emcee…
iNTeLL: Well technically, before I started writing rhymes I did want to be a filmmaker. So technically I was a filmmaker first, but all throughout junior high and high school I was writing rhymes, poetry, and bootleg recording songs. I didn’t really dive into the film thing until I went to college and I was like, “Okay, this is part of who I am. This is part of my character. This skillset is definitely being adapted.”
TRHH: Your father is part of one of the greatest Hip-Hop groups of all-time and has been in the game for nearly thirty years. What’s the best advice that he’s given you about the music business?
iNTeLL: He didn’t really want me to be in the music business so when he gives advice it’s usually in the form of warnings [laughs]. He did give me some really good positive advice one time when I went to Texas and I had a show. When I’m on stage I’m worried about my movements, blocking, and also forgetting my lyrics. There’s a lot of thoughts going on in my head. He was like, “At this stage don’t worry about moving around, dancing, and doing all of that. Focus on your words. Deliver the words with meaning to the people so that they lock in on what you’re saying and they understand what you’re saying, and then they can see how ill you are. And then later on once you have the people on your words then you can do all that fancy moving around on the stage shit. Don’t feel like you need to do that at this stage of you career,” and I appreciated that because it made me relax and focus on delivering my vocals instead of giving them a full show like I’m Chris Brown or some shit [laughs].
TRHH: Why didn’t he want you to get into Hip-Hop?
iNTeLL: For all the trials and tribulations that go with it. Everything that he experienced wasn’t positive. No father wants his son to experience any negative, whatsoever! I mean, the negatives that you have to experience to make you a man, but all the unnecessary negatives, no father wants his son to go through that. There’s plenty of father/son duos in the entertainment industry and the fathers guide their sons and say, “Don’t step on that landmine because I stepped on that landmine and I’m here to make sure you don’t.” But then you got the fathers that are like, “Don’t go in that field! I stepped on a whole bunch of fucking landmines, don’t go in that field!”
I happen to have the “don’t go in the field” dad as opposed to the “let me show you where the landmines are” dad. But either way I’m going in that fucking field and I stepped on some landmines already. I know what it is and I know that it’s not going to be easy, but I’m still moving forward. He understands that and is starting to wrap it around his brain. He’s like, “Oh, this motherfucker is 26, about to be 27 years old. I guess he’s really doing this music shit.” Yeah I’m really doing this music shit, alongside the film making shit, and alongside any other opportunities. I’m not just sticking to one particular skill-set. I’m a very multi-faceted, multi-talented individual that’s just going to win [laughs].
TRHH: Isn’t that consistent with his personality though? He’s always been labeled the “Oscar the Grouch” of the Wu-Tang Clan. Isn’t that consistent with him being kind of negative?
iNTeLL: Probably. I can’t speak for the Clan and the dynamic of their relationship over the years, but I know me and his relationship has been up and down, like any parent/child relationship. Obviously the circumstances are different. He was building a legacy. When you have kids it’s hard to have kids and build a legacy.
TRHH: Did you feel any extra pressure following in your father’s footsteps?
iNTeLL: I mean, I feel pressure. It’s hard to explain because right now I’m still on the grind, I’m still up and coming, and not a lot of people know of my existence. I feel like once I get to that point where I’m in the media then people are going to start with that whole, “You’ve got big shoes to fill.” I already went through that phase of fearing that. I’m not afraid of those questions. To be honest with you, those are shoes I can’t ever fill, and I’m not trying to fill those shoes. That was a completely different genre of Hip-Hop almost being created right before our very eyes. I’m not saying I’m trying to create a new genre of Hip-Hop, but I’m just trying to do me, which is separate from what they did. So, whether I make it or not or become as great as he was or as great as he is, is irrelevant because I can’t touch that legacy. There is no pressure, there is no fear, there is only admiration and respect.
TRHH: On the album you have a song called “Y.A.M.S” that features a bunch of emcees but one voice that stood out to me was Prema777’s. She appears a few times on U.N.I.T.E – what’s her story and what does she bring to the table for iNTeLL?
iNTeLL: That is my significant other – the love of my life. We met a little over a year ago. She’s been rapping since she was little. She’s one of the illest emcees I’ve ever heard – female, male or whatever. We really need to stop segregating that category. She’s fucking dope as shit. She’s a die-hard New Yorker. She’s lived in every borough at least once. She’s working on an album right now. She’s been working on a lot of music over the years but just with the wrong people. Since we hooked up we’ve both had such a profound and positive influence on each other’s music that it’s like an unstoppable force moving forward. When she releases her project it’s going to be fucking ridiculous. She’s got some visuals out right now on YouTube that I shot and edited myself. She’s upcoming and one of the illest emcees I’ve ever heard.
TRHH: What are your ultimate goals in Hip-Hop?
iNTeLL: My ultimate goals in Hip-Hop is to teach and to keep the essential essence of what it is alive. Not on no “everybody gotta be rapping on boom bap beats” and “everybody gotta go to DJ Premier” but essentially Hip-Hop started out as fun music that you could dance to, celebrating each other, and also spreading knowledge and awareness on what’s going on in the community, what’s going on in the world, how can we fix things that are broken? It’s like a rhythmic P.S.A. to the community, so I just want to continue that element of it moving forward, and also give respect to the DJ’s, the B-Boys and the B-Girls, and the graffiti artists. Those elements get forgotten as well. People think it’s all about the rapper but initially it was all about the DJ! The rapper was just there to tell the party how good the DJ was.
How do we get to a point where rappers are the main focus and DJ’s don’t even make beats no more? They just yell, “We the greatest!!” or “We the best!!!” I just think Hip-Hop is a little topsy-turvy, but it’s coming back around. We got Cole, we got Kendrick, and we got J.I.D. We got a lot of progressive young emcees coming up that are going to bring it back to what it originally was or at least some aspect of that. Now everybody is lost. Everybody is on drugs, everybody is drinking lean, doing pills, and everybody just wants to rap over trap beats – which is fine, but that’s not for everybody. Let that be popular where it is, let that lean flourish, but don’t try to make that the unified sound of Hip-Hop.
TRHH: What do you want people to take away from U.N.I.T.E?
iNTeLL: That I’m one of the fucking illest ever to do it! That project is fire and they should keep up with me because I’m not going to disappoint. Follow me on Instagram @intellmakesmusic. And it’s not just music y’all getting from me, y’all getting music, movies, paintings, and just knowledge of self. I love to talk. I’ve got a podcast that I’ve worked on as a sound engineer and I’ve got a podcast that I will be co-hosting during the summer. It’s a lot of great, positive, enlightening content that I want to deliver to anyone who wants to listen. Some of it’s free, some of it’s pay because I got bills, I have to eat, and I’m trying to stay alive to serve the people the best I possibly can. That’s what I hope they take away from it. I hope they listen to it and they’re like, “Damn, I gotta tell somebody about this.” That’s my goal, to make an album that when someone is done listening to it and they immediately hit the share button, they text it to their right hand man like, “Nigga, this album is fire!” and so forth and so on. That’s how legends are made. That’s how you end up in the barber shop conversations. That’s what I hope people take away.
Purchase: iNTeLL – U.N.I.T.E